Preparing a Table

In the year since I began attending my new church, I’ve come to a realization. Even if I didn’t see the name “Baptist” on the church sign, I’d know who these people are. They know how to eat; they appreciate the connections that can come when people bring their own potato salad or home-made ice cream or cheese cake and place it on a table for everyone to share. Food, well prepared by people for the people they love, stands like a universal bond. Perhaps that’s why the Psalmist talks of God preparing a table “in the presence of my enemies.” Despite differences, people can often sit down over food.

I mention this today after reading an intriguing blog by Albert Mohler. In “The Cooking Creature,” Mohler laments the loss of cooking in our culture. Yes, he’s a few years behind the whole Slow Food curve, but Mohler’s not exactly a foodie. He’s much more interested in the the culture possible by people bending their wills to the Kingdom of God.

Food, it seems to me, represents a marvelous point of common ground between Christians and a segment of American culture that has been less than friendly to orthodox belief.

Christians (and Jews) can point to Proverbs 12:10 and a tradition of wise-use Biblical teaching to demonstrate that we embraced animal dignity long before PETA and company came along. Granted, this might pull us away from KFC, Tyson, and the 10,000 per house chicken factories, but it will be done not based on some warm-fuzzy, Bambi-embracing, Radar O’Reilly philosophy. It’ll be grounded in the Word of God.

Mohler’s view of domestic cooking as a traditionally female pursuit–not a drudgery but an area of creativity and power–can counter the Jimmy Carter school that attacks traditional Christian teachings as oppressive of women. I can imagine an entire subversive neo-feminism that views microwave cuisine as far more oppressive than pot roast. Such a school of thought would start at the kitchen table to critique the dehumanizing effects of an array of cultural “improvements.” Why do we need to cook when Mrs. Stouffer has done it for us? Why exercise our minds when we have cable TV to entertain us? Why garden when we have Greg’s Lawn Service to mow and weed-eat and so forth?

Is it a coincidence that Christianities twin sacraments so embrace the essentials of life. After baptism’s symbolic portrayal of death and birth, we move to the communion table and eat. Christianity does not call us to enormous pomp and ceremony. It does not require complex ritual. One needn’t be enormously educated to follow Christ to a joyful life.  What must we do? Die to ourselves, be reborn in Jesus, and then (to make the most of it) eat a meal in Jesus’ memory. The Christian life is a simple thing. For all the people who spend their lives accumulating wealth and power, pursuing the ultimate experience, or chasing after some mystical wisdom, a Christian philosophy of food says, “Don’t waste your life on this trivia. Sit down and have a bite to eat.” What does Jesus promise in Revelation 3:20 but a simple shared meal.

In short, Mohler’s call to the kitchen could serve, by looking at this most essential of human activities, as an opening, a dinner party of sorts, at which various forces, long hostile to Christian teaching can come to recognize that its wisdom is not only life-affirming but, ultimately, life itself.